How close did the Red Sox get to signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto? Craig Breslow explains

Red Sox

“I think that we put our best foot forward.”

Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed with the Dodgers in free agency. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Red Sox entered this offseason in desperate need of proven starting pitching.

During a lackluster 2023 season where Boston posted its third last-place finish in four seasons, opposing batters feasted at Fenway Park. The Red Sox ranked 21st in MLB in team ERA at 4.52, with a dearth of innings-eating starters eventually depleting Boston’s bullpen.

But hope sat on the horizon this winter, especially with 25-year-old Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto hitting the open market.

The Red Sox and Yamamoto seemed like a natural fit, with the righty posting a 70-29 record with a 1.82 ERA over his seven seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). 

The only issue, of course, is that a star pitcher hitting free agency at 25 meant that the Red Sox were far from the only party interested in Yamamoto.

Ultimately, Yamamoto put pen to paper on a 12-year, $325 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers just before Christmas — with Boston’s top offseason signing so far being veteran starter Lucas Giolito (two years, $38.5 million).

Speaking to WEEI’s Rob Bradford on the “Baseball Isn’t Boring Podcast” last week, Red Sox chief baseball officer Craig Breslow mapped out just how aggressive Boston was in its pursuit of Yamamoto.

“I think that we were competitive, I think that we put our best foot forward,” Breslow said. “I think we, by all accounts, made a positive impression in terms of what we could offer. We’ve got a Japanese infrastructure here that I think has eased the transition for a number of players over the last 20 years or so. There are a number of Japanese players who have come over and had success and that made that transition as smoothly and quickly as one can hope.”

While the Dodgers shelled out a hefty contract for a talented — albeit, unproven — MLB starter, it remains unclear just how close Boston or any other franchise came to equaling Los Angeles’ offer to Yamamoto.

Boston currently has a projected payroll of a little over $200 million — with close to $36 million available to spend before hitting MLB’s first competitive tax threshold of $237 million.

Even though the Red Sox presumably have money to spend before hitting that initial ceiling, team president Sam Kennedy noted over the weekend that Boston’s 2024 payroll “probably be lower” than it was in 2023. The payroll last year was $225 million.

“Ultimately, it obviously didn’t come together,” Breslow said of Yamamoto. “Some of that is potentially within our control, some of it isn’t, right? We can only influence the preferences of others so much.

“I’m proud of the way that our group came together to demonstrate what we have to offer in Boston. Ultimately, it didn’t work out, but as you kind of just generally think about a player who is in the prime of his career and should contribute over a meaningful period of time, that is the right type of player that I would argue that we should be targeting.”